On the 7th of December 1922, Pro – Treaty TDs, Sean Hales of Cork and Pádraig Ó Máille of Mayo, emerged from their lunch at a hotel on Ormonde Quay, along Dublin’s river Liffey, for the short drive to the Dáil in Leinster House.
Both had been active in Sinn Féin and the IRA in the struggle against the British, but had supported the Treaty. Hales had a brother, Tom, in hills of west Cork fighting with the Anti-Treaty IRA. As they were getting into the car that would drive them to the Dáil, two gunmen opened fire on them, killing Hales and severely wounding Ó Máille, before disappearing into the backstreets behind the Quays.
Liam Lynch, Anti-Treaty IRA Chief of Staff, had ordered the killing of any TD who had voted for the “Murder Bill” and also threatened hostile judges and newspaper editors. Frank Henderson, head of the IRA Dublin Brigade had, apparently, ordered the killing only of Ó Máille, the Leas Cean Comhairle, or Deputy Speaker of the Dail, and was dismayed that Hales had been killed. For 16 years afterwards he had his son, a priest, say a Mass for Hales.
The Cabinet met in an emergency session and decided, after an all-night debate, on retaliatory executions of four Republican leaders captured in the Four Courts back in July – Liam Mellows, Rory O’Connor, Dick Barrett and Joe McKelvey. The executions were no more and no less than a reprisal killing for the death of Seán Hales. The four had been captured months before the Government had even proposed its emergency legislation in September 1922.